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Friday, 17 May 2013


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A remarkably similar issue seems to be blossoming around photographing on airplanes... http://petapixel.com/2013/05/16/some-airlines-saying-no-to-on-board-photography/

Hmmm mixed feelings here. I take a regular evening stroll through my neighborhood and see many "situations" (no nothing sexual) that I've thought would make for interesting photographs. I have NOT done it but out of curiosity I asked a police officer and was told that you can legally photograph anything you can see from a sidewalk. Admittedly, putting it on display in a gallery and making money off if it was not discussed. I don't see how this is very different from that. shrug..

And where's the creative, thoughtful or "artistic" aspect of the work. Other than it get's time in a NY gallery?

Someone self righteous local artist once told me they art was for the priveledged. Obviously I disagreed.

Now this photographer clearly thinks he's priveldged to his 'art'. Obviously I think most disagree.

What privacy has been violated here?

I looked at the photos on the Julie Saul Gallery website, and as far as I can tell none of the people in the photos are 'immediately' recognizable. The photographer seems to have taken great lengths to compose the pictures, and make the identity's of the subject unrecognizable. There seems to be no recognizable faces, or anything but mildly generic furniture, to clue you into the 'identity' of the people in the photographs.

Yes, the photographer took photographs of someone else in their home. I can understand why people might be upset, but unless you are actually 'revealing' the identities of the people, then what privacy has been violated?

[I would consider a photograph taken of the inside of my home to be a violation of my privacy, whether I am in the picture or not. --Mike]

Wow, that's a tricky one. One factor in favor of the photographer is that the people themselves are unidentifiable. But more important is the context: these are photographs of people who live in an all-glass building in a neighbourhood that is otherwise comprised of red brick buildings. That subject just screams for social commentary.

On the other hand, you are correct that we should have a reasonable expectation of privacy at home, even if we live in a glass building. It's one thing to have people catch glimpses of you inside your home but it's another thing for them to capture the image and to make a permanent display of it.

This opens up a whole lot of questions and issues. I do street photography, shooting secretly "from the hip," which a lot of people think is unfair and invasive of privacy. I sometimes think so myself, which sort of keeps me constantly questioning my own work. But I don't go after gag shots or pictures of people looking bad or vulnerable. The people in my photographs are seen exactly as they're seen when they're walking down the street. But does that mean I have the right to make a permanent record of it?

I think so, but it's shaky because I feel I can get away with it because I'm not exploiting anyone and my intention is to show views of the city and its people, which is traditionally an honourable thing. So why am I so offended at Google Glass? Why can I happily publish a street scene containing photographs of people who don't know they were photographed, yet I am infuriated by the idea of talking to someone wearing Google Glass who might be putting photos or video of the conversation on Facebook as we speak?

Are there absolute yes/no answers to these questions? Can we go "soft" on them and say it depends on context and intention? If so, what contexts and intentions are acceptable and which are not?

First I agree with you 110% but there is a catch to the idea of "expectation of privacy" in that if you are in plain view of someone taking photos from a PUBLIC space then that rule may not apply. The problem here, for the photographer, the photographer wasn't in a public space but in his own PRIVATE space.

I also can't believe a gallery would show it in the first place. You have to think it's a publicity stunt.

Also, another thought comes to mind: If these were paintings nobody would be upset.

While you are certainly right about the right to privacy, as a NYC cliff dweller for 20 years, I can tell you the simple solution is close your window blinds/curtains/shades. There's nothing aesthetic about the view of (most) buildings across the street, and you can still get light into the room. Unless, of course, you're an exhibitionist....

People who live in glass buildings shouldn't, ... well, expect too much privacy.

I think the photographer is a creep, but I don't think those photographed have any legitimate complaint. Windows are not walls. The view they paid big bucks for works both ways. Always has. Always will.

It amazes me how many people treat windows like they're walls. Especially at night. Don't folks realize that after sunset, your windows glow like little television sets and all the world can tune in to watch what you do.

Unless you close the blinds.

What's going to happen when devices like Google Glass become commonplace and people broadcast there every glance and "goings-on" to the world? I'm not claiming to know. Just a thought.

And the more I think about it the less I agree that they are being exploited or that their privacy is being violated. I wouldn't recognize a single person if I met them from any of the photographs and if you don't want to be exposed to the world, well, then don't be... shrug.

Recently, there were photos posted here of commuters in trains, photographed through the train windows with faces that are identifiable. These were in some cases quiet, personal moments, and one can only assume that the subjects felt a degree of privacy offered by the tinted windows and compartmentalized seating. These were private moments in a public setting. In the case of this artist, his subjects are not identifiable and were photographed through large open windows that are, apparently, part of a design/lifestyle statement. It appears that the subjects are literally, "people who live in glass houses." So which is the greater transgression?

After re-visiting the images I suddenly realised that my initial comment about lack of artistic relevance was misplaced, and that they stood there alongside Jack Vettriano' best work

Whenever matters like this arise regarding photographs I wonder what the reaction would be if the pictures were paintings.

Here we have a case of photographs made during daylight hours, through a window, not identifying anyone.

How is that different from Google Street View?

The Google Street View cars have been all over the place, automatically peering into house after house after house. Did you close your blinds? Sure about that? It could wind up on Google Street View. And there goes your privacy. Are you supposed to be private in your back yard? How do you think Google, et al, get all of those aerial shots? Computer rendering? No, an airplane has photographed your yard. And it's on display for potentially billions of people. Same with Street View.

Now we have someone doing the same thing that the Google Street View car has done. He has done it by personal effort instead of impersonal effort. So which is good, and which is bad? Are they both bad?

If you are standing out in your front yard and taking a whiz and the Google Street View car comes along and photographs you, is your privacy violated? Imagine your bathroom has a twelve foot floor-to-ceiling picture window, and you're doing the same thing with no shades, and, yes, there goes the Google Street View car. Is your privacy violated?

Or is your privacy violated only when a person makes an individual effort of making an image, no matter if you're outside or inside in front of a clear glass window?

You are not invisible. Get over it.

[You're apparently unaware that Google Street View blurs recognizable faces of people on the street and in their homes. --Mike]

FWIW, this is from the California Penal Code (doesn't apply to NY, of course):

(j)(1)Any person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, or camcorder, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision shall not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.

On the other hand, I recall reading about a case recently where some young women sued to stop neighbors watching them through open windows with a telescope, and the court ruled against them, on the basis that they could just pull the shades. But I don't remember where that was, and I can't figure out how to ask Google in a way that will turn it up...

I don't think whether or not people can be recognized has much to do with it -- you're not talking about technical issues here, you're talking about a person's sense of comfort in his or her own home. Just because you don't shut a drape, or forget to, doesn't mean that you shouldn't have that in your home. Put this in a different context: you walk into your living room in the morning in your underwear, realize that you forgot to close the drapes the night before, and just as you realize that, a stranger in the street takes your picture. Are you okay with that? I'm not. And how is this different that the present situation. If it were me, I'd sue the guy and his gallery, even if I had little expectation of winning; I'd sue to make them pay for the defense. (Though I would expect to win. I don't think he would get much sympathy from a jury.)

I have to ask -- when did "transgressive" come to mean "art?" There have always been some transgressive elements in art, but it's not a requirement, and there have always been limits. Privacy has generally been one of them, although there have been many instances (Nan Goldin's work) where that has been voluntarily relinquished.

If you go somewhere without a reasonable expectation of privacy -- a walk in the park -- then that's an entirely different situation.

I don't see the Google Streetview connection., and not just (as Mike points out) because Streetview blurs faces.

Streetview consists of photographs of exteriors, in low resolution. While there may be some cases where you can see a bit into a window, you can't see much, and it's very blurry.

The photo in question here are not just "seen from outside," they are seen with a telephoto lens, so the intrusion into the interior space is very clear and deliberate.

That said, I actually really like the photographs on artistic grounds, and while I'm uncomfortable with the level of intrusion, I'm not completely against it (under the circumstances; glass house, etc. etc.)

A word of caution, many police officers do not know the law on privacy.Its a rather complicated issue, and in part depends on the use of the photograph. In New York City, after 9/11, photographers have been stopped by police for taking pictures of buildings, on the subway, and elswhere in the name of "anti-terrorism". Photographs which didn't differ significantly from those available on postcards at tourist kiosks. There have been a number of court cases as a result. Maybe you can find a lawyer knowledgeable on this subject to comment.

The key here is "floor-to-ceiling glass windows" and open or see-through curtains. You don't have an expectation of privacy (at least one that the law would recognize as a reasonable / enforceable one) if you haven't taken the (very simple) effort to conceal yourself from public view.

I'm pretty sure that if it's no violation of your privacy for someone to be able to SEE you, there's also no violation of your privacy if that person photographs you.

Ethical? Not sure. In good taste? De gustibus non est disputandum.

As for the million dollar question -- are the photographs any good? Not sure.

Eh Mike, and you are aware that in Germany Google Streetview got itself into a legal mess and people can claim in order to have their whole house blurred. And that it is illegal in Germany to name a picture "Köln, Grosse Budengasse 4653" (which IMHO is nonsence).

I don't think Arne Swenson suffers from a overdose of compassion, but I sure like his artistic and social questioning. What is privacy these days since in one way or another we all live in glass houses? A harmless picture on the internet, Facebook face recognition and presto, an affair out in the open (or worse). I heard the news today, oh boy ((c) Lennon and McCartney)), that in Germany 20 procent of all high school students are or have been victims of cyber mobbing. Now in these cases video's and photo's (obtained legally or illegaly) are used to pester other kids (into suicide even).

Maybe a statement like this is reflecting our society and personally I wouldn't mind if I was to appear in one of Arne's photos, (probably sitting in front off my computer (s) boaring as hell). Looking at the pictures I see, he well didn't do any harm and didn't show overly compromising postures, but there is a fine line between art in voyeurism here, that could have been transgressed, and I guess he didn't transgres it.

Greets, Ed.

John Camp, if I can see you from somewhere I have every right to be, your expectation of privacy borders on the delusional. If you're angry because I saw you in your underwear because you forgot to close your drapes, the person you're angry with should be yourself.

If you don't want to risk people seeing you wandering around the house in your underwear, invest in a bathrobe and don't leave the bedroom without it.

The people living in those glass boxes paid a premium to have transparent walls. Complaining that people can see--and photograph--through said walls is ridiculous. Like I said earlier, they paid big bucks for that view, and it works both ways.

[Your opinion is quite pointless. If you're in your living room, it's against the law for someone to photograph you through your windows. The law is as clear as it can be on that question (although, as Ctein points out, laws are never perfectly clear, at least as interpreted by the courts in specific instances). --Mike]

Probably legal with no identifiable faces, definitely creepy- no matter what he likes to think of himself as...

"I also can't believe a gallery would show it in the first place. You have to think it's a publicity stunt."

That's the whole point of having a gallery show. That's why galleries are located where they are. That's why artists give the gallery a big cut of the sales.

As for privacy, the people are unidentifiable in the photos so they are only giving up their privacy when they identify themselves, or from what I surmise from the story, when their neighbor Michelle Sylvester gives an interview to the Associated Press identifying the building.

A problem with the argument "what's visible from a public place such as the sidewalk is fair game, they can always use blinds" is that is it fair for any level of technology used? I could put up a suitable infrared light source and take pictures in darkness without anyone noticing, being able to see through thin fabric. Thick fabric? Bring out the heatcam. Personally, I think it's fair to say that my home is my private space, no photography allowed without consent. Everything else just opens a can of worms of various edge cases.

@Rob: I suspect a window isn't a "a hole or opening" as it says in that statue. Windows allow the person in the room to control their level of privacy (rather than have a hole or opening made by a voyeur to view people with an expectation of privacy) hence the outcome of the other ruling.

The opposite sometimes happens too. People being nude at home when not closing the blinds have been prosecuted for this. e.g this one in Washington where a guy nude at home was found guilty then overturned on appeal.



As a street photographer I'm sensitive to this as there are a lot of people out there who beleive they have a "right of privacy" (or an absolute "right to their own image"). People will make up "law" they like even if it has no basis in fact.

I suspect the building residents (is it a class action?) are on a hiding to nothing here though it may cost the photographer money to protect himself.

The question to be asked of by a "reasonable person" is "does the person reasonable expectation of privacy". I suspect you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you don't draw the blinds.

I recall seening similar images in the past though with wider lenses. It's a interesting way of showing the "cellular nature" of urban life with lots of different people going about their life independently of each other.

Dear Ed,

Your question about why Google Glass offends you so much, where photographs don't, has a very simple answer. A photograph only establishes your presence. A video establishes what you're saying and doing. That's an entirely different thing.

I have no issues with being photographed in any circumstance where I can be photographed. I would have a huge issue with someone Google Glassing me, when I'm not speaking or acting “on the record.”

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I have no sympathy for people who believe that their windows are one-way.

Mike, did you get a chance to take a look at the series? While I do agree with you that this is inappropriate behavior exhibited by a photographer I do think that he's captured some beautiful images.

How is this any different than a 'peeping tom' or voyeurism type crime? What else has he photographed that he might, perhaps, release later? Surely these were not the only photos he shot and the odds are that he has photographed faces too. Would such photos showing faces violate voyeurism laws and expectations of privacy?

If property owners have a right to require a release before photographs of exteriors of their property can be displayed or sold commercially, wouldn't owners have the right to require a release for commercial photos of interior views? When the address of the building in the photos is well known, it is not difficult to narrow down the homes and identify its residents, even if the faces are not in the photos. Isn't that invasion of privacy?

I would also disagree with commenters who say there is not an expectation of privacy because the curtains were open or see-through. Windows are built to let in light and, sometimes, air. I think it seems unreasonable to set a legal standard forcing people to live behind dark heavy curtains that are sealed tight in order to have "any" expectation of privacy in their own homes, including the expectation of keeping the interiors private. After all, if the curtain is closed but the photographer shot through an open crack or slit in the curtains? Is there still no expectation of privacy then?

This issue raises a slew of questions. At the very least, there seems to be sufficient grounds for a civil suit, with discovery to seek copies of all other photos he made of his neighbors. It'll also be interesting to see whether this guy's voyeurism will lead to additional legal barriers to street photography in general.

If you can not prove that the picture is of you...how can you sue someone that it is you?

This is not, as some have characterized it, an all-glass building. It appears to be a typical large residential building with some floor-to-ceiling windows. I don't know what the courts might say. These are views that couldn't be seen from street level, and I think that may make a legal difference. These people (anonymous as they are) had a reasonable presumption that their everyday activities weren't being recorded for public display. He could have easily attempted to get their permission to show/sell the pictures, and I suspect many would have granted it. I would have, for pictures like these.

They really are nice images, with a very consistent aesthetic sensibility. He is not making fun of his neighbors. These glimpses of their daily lives are quite touching.

Yes, Mike, I know that Street View blurs out people's faces. And none of the faces in Svenson's photographs are recognizable. As for resolution, it's increasing all the time. Isn't progress wonderful?

Edward Steichen "Sunday Papers"

Merry Alpern "Dirty Windows"
Could even consider Walker Evans "Many Are Called"
This type of observation has a long history in photography.

We get very worked up about artists making art but not very worked up about governments surveilling our ever move or google recording our web browsing.

I would rather live in a world where artists were free do what they wished and bureaucracies and corporations were heavily restricted.

There is a value to the depiction in art of everyday commonplaces, even if that is somewhat intrusive. I think on balance the value lies in having a sense of the common good. We are admonished not to stare but staring is useful, and at one end it is simply admiration.

Privacy is important but the most private things no one can ever see and that is your thoughts. However- google, etc. can tell what we are at least wishing for through our searches. And we have let this intrusion into our lives with what will become the blink of the google glass eye.

The pictures look hopper-esq to me and if this was painting as someone else said, even of a real situation, no one would object I think.

Expectation of privacy is interesting. If you take a shower and forgot to close the curtains and then walk to the window butt naked to close the curtains, you expect privacy and for a brief moment are exposed. But if you wander around the house in front of uncovered windows in whatever state of undress, then you really do not expect privacy.
If somebody publishes a picture of that situation, you are likely to complain or sue. In the first instance you would be right to complain, in the second not at all. But that does not mean there would not be complaints or lawsuits.

Personally I think it is borderline wrong to take pictures of private areas from public areas. So I would hold higher standards for pictures like this. I would only show something that is positive, not something bad or potentially embarrassing even if for some reason I ended up taking a picture like that, which I would generally try to avoid.

Now we know how to afford that supertelephoto lens. One has to befriend geezer birders who are into feathery portraits.

The usual rule is that we can photograph what we can see from where are allowed to be, such as on the street, or in our suburban yards. This does get unclear. Most folks know that glass is a two way instrumentality;most folks know too that if lude behavior were done in front of one of these windows, there might be a legal consequence. E.g. some of the fans in the hotel rooms overlooking where the Bluejays play in Toronto; little warning cards in each room. High rise folks do often have telescopes, and they are not all astronomers. So, is the complaint more that the image was published on paper, in the gallery rather than they were merely "seen" in their glass houses, as I suspect they expect to occur from time to time.


On a train commute, you might be able to (or feel the need to) escape to your own private place in your mind, in order to deal with the grind of making that journey every day, but you know in that in reality, it's all in your head.

You're not home, and there's no place like it.

Reminds me of some of Michael Wolf's works - large scale photographing of buildings in cities, and then enlargements of people seen in the windows of those buildings.



Just for clarity: personally, I find it creepy. I would rather not somebody photograph me through my windows, Hnor do I advocate photographing others through their windows.

However, if someone photographs my property from a public area -- such as the public road -- and I am visible through one of my windows, with whom does the responsibility lie for "reasonable expectation of privacy?"

If I saw someone, for example, sticking a camera lens out a car window, aimed at my property, I might seek to make their acquaintance with an eye toward discovering what they are up to.

Mike, I disagree with your dismissal of my argument, and your understanding of the law. Strongly. Very strongly. It would be a difficult task for a prosecutor to convict someone for photographing your living room from the street and it would be an impossible task to make any conviction stick.

If I can see you from somewhere I have every right to be, without taking extraordinary measures (i.e. telescope, thermal imaging, night vision, or a 10 foot ladder so I can see over your fence), I have every right to take your picture*. If I make a habit of standing in front of your house photographing your living room, you could make the claim that I was harassing or stalking you. If I had to trespass or go to extraordinary lengths to take the pictures, I would be a peeping tom. But if all I had to do was turn my head, lift my camera, and press the shutter release, I would just be a photographer.

That might make me a creep, or it might make me a good street shooter, but it certainly would not make me a criminal. If it did, everyone who ever took a photo on a suburban street would be a peeping tom...including our own Ctein, with his privacy-invading Christmas light photos.

*Barring the obvious exceptions like restrooms, changing rooms, military facilities, closed courtrooms, etc.

Legally, in NY State, anyone standing in front of a window that can be viewd by the public has no expectation of privacy. This was settled by the NY State Supreme Court in a case against a photographer who photographed bikini clad women on a public beach. The court ruled that people could only expect privacy in situations where they could disrobe and reasonably expect not to be observed by others. Standing or sitting in front of an open window in the middle of NYC does not meet this test.

At he same time, in Texas the photographer could be charged with a crime. While the Texas law regarding candid photography is both ambiguous and unconstitutional, it is currently the law. Move to Texas if you want legal recourse for being photographed without your permission.

As has been stated numerous times, legal aspects and personal morals are not only entirely different, but they can be mutually exclusive as well.

So I'm messing around with fairly high resolution images, and a lot of stuff gets into them. For instance here


there is a fair amount of "views through windows". Is the fact that there are a few thousand windows in the picture make it less "intrusive" ? Is the problem too much resolution? Is the problem with the photos in the show that there is too much cropping?

Ethics vs. Politics?

None of the people seen in the WP article are recognisable, but on the other hand they were in their own homes.

Whether it is ethical or not is rather beside the point if this becomes another cause célèbre for those that want to restrict photographers rights.

Rights not enshrined in the constitution are vulnerable to public opinion. This is probably not helpful.

I briefly lived in a SOHO NY loft opposite similar buildings fronted with full height windows. Nobody seemed to care that they might be visible from across the street. They just got on with their lives. I mentioned this to a NY friend with a similar view. He told me an interesting fact. More astronomical telescopes are sold in NY city than anywhere else in the USA. Well, one can't see the sky for skyscrapers, so I presume they were for viewing the neighbours. In fact I could see several telescopes on tripods on the lofts opposite. Is their a distinction between watching and photographing? Perhaps it lies in exhibiting such photographs, or publishing them. Actually I soon forgot to peer across the street at neighbours with or without clothes. And I never took photographs. Goff

Here is a radio piece on another stalk-ographer:

While traditional street photography usually catches strangers passing by in a public space, the photographer Michele Iversen has been catching strangers passing by in their own private spaces, without their permission.

At night she sits in her car and watches the warm glowing windows of strangers' homes waiting for the perfect shot.

She Sees Your Every Move won a Best Documentary: Honorable Mention Award in the 2012 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.


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